Marilee Driscoll: Why we all need to grow up by 80

Marilee Driscoll

As Abraham Maslow said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” The surgeon sees surgery as the best solution for what ails any of us, pooh-poohing chiropractics and other forms of healing, which are considered a first treatment of choice in other cultures. So, as an expert in long-term care planning, I must confess that whenever I speak with someone over age 70, in the back of my mind I’m often wondering what steps they have taken and plans they have made relative to future care needs.   

Recently, I was looking for an apartment and, during that search, toured the second floor of an older two-family house. The landlady was a lovely, bright, engaging 80-something woman who lived on the first floor. As recently as one year ago, every morning she took a walk to the ocean, a trek of about one mile each way. However, as the result of several falls in the last few months, she now was grappling with multiple health problems. With her closest relative living more than one hour away, I realized that her situation was likely, quite literally, one more fall away from never being able to return to her house. 

She was using a walker, and was unable to easily leave the home. To get in and out of her apartment required climbing a few steps. Who would oversee the hiring of someone and oversee the installation of a ramp? Her snow removal service had been unreliable, making it difficult for friends to do errands and help (and professional caregivers need easy access to their clients’ homes). On the plus side, she did wear an emergency pendant, allowing her to summon help in an emergency.

During the process of negotiating the rental, she received a visit from that closest relative. They made the decision not to seek a renter, but instead to put the house on the market. This common situation is heartbreaking in that it is rarely anticipated or planned. 

Life experience has taught me that almost everyone will have a dramatic decline in health sometime in their 80s. So, it behooves all of us to be, by age 80, in the housing situation that will support us forever.

You could say that I view many situations through the prism of long-term care. Will you borrow that thinking cap for a while, and view your own living situation through that prism? What changes can you make to ensure smoother sailing should you need help as you grow very old? 

Plymouth resident Marilee Kern Driscoll is a professional speaker and the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Long-term Care Planning.” She has been quoted in hundreds of newspapers and magazines, including “The Wall Street Journal” and “Kiplinger’s Personal Finance,” and has been interviewed on the CBS Early Show. She encourages you to ask your questions, subscribe to her free newsletter, and find local help withlong-term care anywhere in the U.S. at www.LTCmonth.com.